The Intertubes are swirling with rumors of a deal between the iconic Ford Motor Company and tech giant Google to bring a self-driving car to the mass market. I know, right? Just think about the historic significance of marrying the 20th century Rust Belt with the 21st century Silicon Belt to spawn a 22nd century car that drives all by itself without any help from you.
Notsofast On That Historic Ford/Google Thing…
Well, dream on Klingon — at least for now. The self-driving car rumor kicked off with an article in Automotive News yesterday, and when CleanTechnica asked Ford about it, the company graciously provided us with this exclusive email statement (paraphrase warning):
That’s the short version. The long version basically says that Ford doesn’t comment on rumors. However, with two important trade shows — CES in Las Vegas and NAIAS Detroit — coming up soon, there may be something more substantial to report (or not) in the next few weeks.
…But Ford Is Already All Over That Self-Driving Car Thing
Meanwhile, now would be a good time to catch up with the actual self-driving news from Ford.
Google (okay, so Alphabet, Inc.) has been grabbing much of the self-driving spotlight these days, but Ford has also been focusing on automatic driving technology, and on Internet-assisted “Smart Mobility” projects that dovetail with self-driving vehicles.
In January 2014, for example, Ford announced a self-driving car research project that pairs the company with the academic high-tech powerhouses MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) and Stanford University, in which it made clear that automated driving is The Next Big Thing:
Automated driving is a key component of Ford’s Blueprint for Mobility, which outlines what transportation will look like in 2025 and beyond, along with the technologies, business models and partnerships needed to get there. With its automated Fusion Hybrid research vehicle, Ford is exploring potential solutions for the longer-term societal, legislative and technological issues posed by a future of fully automated driving.
One goal of the initiative is to enable a “common sense” platform for self-driving cars, in which the vehicle mimics — and enhances — the predictive tactics that a human driver would use to avoid obstacles. Here’s the explanation from Greg Stevens, Ford’s global manager for driver assistance and active safety:
Our goal is to provide the vehicle with common sense. Drivers are good at using the cues around them to predict what will happen next, and they know that what you can’t see is often as important as what you can see. Our goal in working with MIT and Stanford is to bring a similar type of intuition to the vehicle.
…And The Self-Driving Rubber Is Hitting The Road
All that hard work is already beginning to pay off for Ford. Earlier this month, Ford announced that it will begin testing its automatic driving tech in California. In the same breath, the company also let out word that it is accelerating its Smart Mobility initiatives with an assist from additional academic partners:
Ford has cultivated relationships with top universities this year, including University of California-Berkeley, Carnegie Mellon University, Santa Clara and San Jose State. The company is further expanding its strategic research collaboration with Stanford in 2016, planning 13 projects covering all five areas of Ford Smart Mobility – more than double the number of collaborations this year.
Relatedly, earlier this month Ford also announced that it is ramping up its investment in electric vehicle technology to the tune of $4.5 billion over the next five years.
Stay tuned — CleanTechnica will have reporters on site at CES and NAIAS Detroit.
Photo by Tina Casey
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